The #globalclassroom Twitter Chats – A Researcher’s Perspective

Last year, we received an unexpected request from Gert Van der Westhuizen, Associate Professor of Education at  the University of Johannesburg, South Africa.  Gert has been researching how social media expands teachers’ horizons, and enables their participation in online learning conversations for some years, and was keen to analyse the #globalclassroom chat archives, so carefully curated by our archivist @clivesir in the UK. 

Having read the published article, I found the idea of ‘learning conversations’ rather fascinating , in that they are authentic, context-specific, structured conversations which promote public interaction and understanding.  These conversations rely on the participants actively contributing and sharing their knowledge through conversations with the wider learning community.  (Van der Westhuizen, G.J. 2012)

It was, I must confess, a strange feeling to see the #globalclassroom chats analysed and described from this perspective, but we are extremely proud to have been able to inform this research. If anyone would like to follow up with Gert in more detail, please leave a comment below. We’ll put you in touch. 

Some observations re a snippet of conversation on global classroom

Dear All

I’m a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa – my interest is in learning conversations in education.

With the permission of hosts/organisers of Global Classroom I looked at two pages of interaction and can share some observations. I hope this may invite some discussion.

The interactions involved questions as the main means of initiating and maintaining the conversation, and for checking understanding. Participants use their turns to check understanding, by means of rephrasing and repeating. They also express needs to learn in question-answer sequences and the use of “e-body language”, inviting more responses. Interesting is the delayed responses to questions, the changing of conversation directions, and the sharing of knowledge.

This study helped me understand how conversations in electronic forms are used for learning.

Thank you very much.

By Gert van der Westhuizen

Department of Educational Psychology

University of Johannesburg

Article Details

Van der Westhuizen, G.J. 2012. The conversational dimensions of classroom and social media learning interactions. Special edition of Communitas, 17 (Special Edition): 137-160.


The focus of this article is on learning conversations in school classrooms, what they are about, and how they form the basis of pedagogical activities and social communication in schools. The purpose is to develop an understanding of the features and benefits of learning conversations in classroom interactions, and how they may be extended by the growing use of social media. For this purpose, Conversation Analysis (CA) studies of classroom interactions are analysed and a summary is offered of the features of purposeful learning conversations. Examples of social media interactions are then analysed in terms of these features, to consider the implications for sustainable learning in school classrooms.

Key words: classroom interaction; social communication; interactional learning; learning conversations; social media


The main argument of this article is that learning conversations are key to social communication and educational progress in school classrooms. The conversational features of interactions are identifiable in detail, and this helps education practitioners focus on ways to improve and sustain learning. The analysis of exemplars of social media interactions seems to indicate that new ways are opened up to improve social communication. Part of this is that social media allows different forms of participation, varied learning and sources for interaction, placing the learning responsibility in the hands of the learner, and in the process promoting independence and self-regulation.

The rapid growth in availability and use of social media in school classrooms, will, with guideline texts such as the one by Magano et al. (2010), bring a refinement of learning conversation pedagogy which will contribute to sustainable learning. The value of learning conversations supported by social media will also go a long way towards promoting generative learning communities (Lewis, Pea & Rosen 2010), and equitable learning, as espoused by Ladson Billings (2005). Such learning needs to be characterised by equal access, adequate learning outcomes, and fairness in terms of opportunities and resources (van der Westhuizen 2012).